Discovering the Gems of Guanajuato, Mexico
Two hundred wide stone steps stared me in the face upon arriving in Guanajuato. My cab driver showed me my hostel’s sign, about halfway down the uneven steps. These steps led to the winding city below, as late afternoon light bounced off the mountains around me. I had no choice. I heaved my pack onto my shoulders and made my way like a nervous turtle to the hostel, trying not to be distracted by the majestic mountains that framed this city.
I knew nothing about Guanajuato when I arrived, merely following recommendations from multiple Mexican friends. I hadn’t even seen a picture, which turned out be just fine as I took way too many while I was there. I soon learned that Guanajuato was a mining town and was also briefly the capital of the Republic.
As my first stop travelling alone through Mexico, Guanajuato never felt lonely or unsafe.
Its wealth from silver discovered in the 1600s is evident in its lavish basilica and theatre (the world-famous Teatro Juarez), among other monuments and buildings that make it stand out from other Mexican cities. Its market, the Mercado Hidalgo, is modeled after an early-twentieth century French train station for instance. If you have seen other markets in Mexico, usually open-air with plastic tables, this one is quite a delight.
Additionally, Guanajuato is the birthplace of Diego Rivera, muralist and husband to Frida Kahlo. You can visit his house, which is now a museum (Museo Casa Diego Rivera), on Calle Positos in the heart of the city. This was also one of my favourite streets, lined with cafés, art galleries, museums and restaurants, all boasting blossoming courtyards and a hefty dose of Guanajuato’s alternative and folky community and culture.
As a university student, what really made the city special for me was the influence of its university on its culture. La Universidad de Guanajuato is a stately white building in the centre of the city (I first mistook it for a castle). It contributes to cultural events throughout the year all around the city, including language classes, movie screenings, concerts and discussions.
Lots of foreigners enjoy Guanajuato for its laid-back atmosphere, curving callejones (alleyways made of stairs, not for the faint hearted) that make it as tall as it is wide, and arts and culture scene. As my first stop travelling alone through Mexico, Guanajuato never felt lonely or unsafe.
Experiencing Guanajuato and its fresh mountain climate with its charming stairs and underground tunnels, its grandiose buildings and its adorable plazas and fountains made me feel like I was discovering a new country.
On my first night, I was nervous to leave the hostel at night alone so asked if I could tag alone with a couple of other girls in my dorm room. On my second night, I took a yoga class and ended up going out for dinner with a classmate, a retired woman who was living alone in the city for a few months. Just two lone female travellers, enjoying each other’s company and some tasty enchiladas.
After having survived in the sweltering humidity of southern of Mexico for three and a half months as an exchange student, experiencing Guanajuato and its fresh mountain climate with its charming stairs and underground tunnels, its grandiose buildings and its adorable plazas and fountains made me feel like I was discovering a new country. If you visit central Mexico, do not miss out of this gemstone of a mining town.
Planning Your Trip:
Get In: Guanajuato is a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Mexico City on multiple bus lines. I recommend Primera Plus for the comfiest ride of your life. Another option is to fly from Mexico City to Léon, Guanajuato on a one-hour flight.
Accommodation: I stayed in Casa de Dante for my short visit—although located a little walk and an unfathomable amount of steps from the centre of the city, its mountain views, hearty breakfasts, gorgeous rooms and ample storage space make up for what it lacks in convenience. One bed in a dorm cost me $250 MX, and there are private rooms available as well.
Sights: Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera is filled with gardens and colonial architecture and is easily accessible by bus from the centre (cost: $30MX). The Alhóndiga de Granaditas is where the fight for Mexican independence began and was used as refuge for Spanish colonials during the movement for independence. It is now a museum on the history of the state of Guanajuato and Mexican independence, boasting stunning murals that recount Mexico’s history. Museo Iconográfico del Quijote is where fans of Cervantes must visit. All the artwork here is related to Don Quijote. Guanajuato also hosts the Cervantino Festival every October, a large celebration of arts and culture throughout the city. Lastly, consider visiting a mine. There are many around the city, all accessible by bus or tour with affordable entrance rates.